TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Departing Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is counting on growing tax revenues from a strong national economy to pay for his proposal to increase spending on public schools, stoking an open revolt Wednesday among fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
The term-limited conservative Republican governor released budget proposals that were supposed to flesh out his plan to phase in a $601 million increase in education funding to meet a court mandate. But his recommendations contained no way to pay for the increase other than relying on growing revenues, and no fiscal projections beyond mid-2019.
Top GOP lawmakers already were upset by the idea even before Brownback outlined his school funding proposal in his eighth and final State of the State address Tuesday evening. They fear they will be forced to consider raising taxes or making deep cuts elsewhere while also shorting public pensions and highway projects next year, when Brownback is out of office.
“It’s irresponsible budgeting,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a moderate Wichita-area Republican.
Brownback’s proposed $16.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July would leave the state with a small cushion of cash reserves at the end of June 2019, without requiring a tax increase. Lawmakers approved a $600-million-a-year income tax increase last year over Brownback’s veto to help balance the budget.
Lawmakers must come up with more money for schools after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state isn’t meeting its funding obligations under the state constitution. Lawmakers have been debating whether the court would accept an increase phased in over multiple years. The $601 million increase touted by Brownback includes $88 million appropriated last year in a previous effort to satisfy the court.
The governor’s proposed budget also includes extra spending to continue pay raises granted in the fall for officers in the state’s stressed prison system, cover gaps in funding for state mental hospitals and raise reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes providing services to the poor and elderly.
“Thankfully, we have the benefit of a strong national economy that’s on the uptick,” Shawn Sullivan, the governor’s budget director, told reporters during a briefing on the proposals. “The strong revenue growth helps our budget situation.”
Brownback must leave office in January 2019 but President Donald Trump nominated him in July as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The U.S. Senate’s failure to vote on Brownback’s appointment has created an awkward transition to a new governor.
And top Republican legislators were angry because Brownback strongly criticized last year’s tax increase, which rolled back past income tax cuts he’d championed in 2012 and 2013 following persistent budget woes. He accused them of using the new revenues to finance unnecessary spending.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican who opposed the tax increase, said that Brownback had “demeaned” lawmakers and “threw them under the bus,” only to propose big spending this year.
Brownback’s administration worked on its budget proposals for weeks, allowing hints to leak to lawmakers early.
Republican legislative leaders already had shown their displeasure with Brownback by blocking a plan to build a new prison in the Kansas City area and by criticizing a proposal to have private insurance companies administer the state’s Medicaid health coverage for the poor, disabled and elderly.
Sullivan acknowledged Wednesday that nothing in Brownback’s budget recommendations is likely to quiet the furor.
Legislators already are reviewing projections from their staff showing that even with last year’s tax increase and no extra money for schools, budget problems could arise in 2020 and 2021.
“There’s got to be a plan,” said state Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican. “You can’t just throw out all of the feel-good policy proposals in the world and say you support them and then not be willing to help us do the work to make that dream a reality.”